Thursday, July 9, 2009

Please Stand Up

It's been a long week. If you can show me some Quaker equality and tolerance at the moment, please stand up. I know, I know that sounds really rude, but I am at a loss on the topic most recently. This frustrates me, as it is one of the very testimonies in which attracted me to Friends. I have not dared to wade out into the subject before now, as I don’t know how to do so without appearing judgmental myself, but it is so heavily on my mind I determined to put my thoughts here rather in my personal journal hoping for some insight. I am thinking more of how the various branches of Friends themselves respond and view one another in light of equality, rather than in the broader sense of the word.

Equality is so at the very heart of our Quaker faith. It’s not hard to see why as the other testimonies such as peace, simplicity and truth really cannot be of proper emphasis in one’s life without equality. To me they go together like a neat little package and while I’ve been witness to a lot quick reactions and dissension amongst the branches recently online, I don’t believe anyone consciously undermines those they feel as equal to. I’ve come to the notion that our lives, our actions can and should display items of commonality rather than a constant underlining of a particular branch. Thus, I’ve even changed my description on this blog as I’ve come to realize it is not benefitting unity lately.

I rely heavily on the internet with it’s various forums and blogs for Quaker companionship. While involved, it does not take long to observe the sting, this seeming urge to cast one as "other" if not in a similar Quaker mind set. I wonder if within the cyberworld there are simply those who are more vocal or that it is easier to fall into critical introspection due to the more impersonal medium. I know first hand that it is not exclusive an experience to a more Conservative Friend, as I’ve watched some Liberal loved ones really get bashed as well and my heart hurts. Quite frankly I am sad at this very moment over it all, as I think love can cover it but I don’t know the solution of this equation in a practical method that could be applied within communities to make all feel equally welcome. I’m left wondering why and I think it is only human to have the need to express and be understood, but some where between expression and the mark we often leave behind, there seems a trail of defensiveness that can easily turn into unhealthy debate.

I can’t claim to be a great scholar in the study of various religions. However, in the overviews and a course I have taken, I’ve never seen historical founders of a faith so esteemed such as Fox and Penn while simultaneously those adhering to that original practice of faith, perhaps a more primitive Christianity referred to as "unlearned". Yes, I am guilty of painting with that broad brush here and I know it full well. But there is something to be said on this delicate ground whereby the case condemned is not always one with a closed mind, but rather a Friend asserting their right like any other person to be true to themselves without having that freedom discarded. To me after observing this for several years now I am finding it the antithesis of Friendly thought. I find it just as wearisome as when my non-Quaker Christian friends or family scrunch up their faces at my announcement of Quakerism and begin questioning my salvation in clever little ways or even bold out right questionnaire-like conversation. Then I watch it largely assumed that some of my more liberal Friends just don’t esteem the Bible at all or have any such knowledge of it, which is blatantly untrue. In fact, I find most to have superior knowledge. Short of all that, does anyone really ever know a person’s heart?

My concern does not fall short here as I am sensitive in nature to the core and I don’t think I am alone in that. Very deep some where inside me is a place, this place that lacks enough words but needs to embrace others who are not like myself. I learn from them, I enjoy them and yes, love them. It some how brings me more peace and heals my own soul. My husband often tells me that I suffer for it and to an extent I think on occasion, he has said it plain. It is in this place where I do not reject my upbringing of Christian heritage, but sift, retain, and gather unto it what I feel are my own individual truths which do very much contain Quaker orientation and testimonies. But I must say, I sit up on the fence like a school kid, wondering how to make others feel loved and their variation welcome and how to not jump off and away from what I’ve claimed as my own–my very own freedom of choice as I need this focus and form of worship. This Quaker way helps and completes me. The practice of unprogrammed worship meets my spiritual needs as well as my physical requirements as I am finally able to enter in to community worship without the constant pressures of being called upon with my painful voice, eye sight and physical demands. I can be myself, reflect and relax and even close my eyes while I seek the Spirit. When meeting is over, I feel I have directly worshiped, rather than been worn out. That to me is refreshing and how I would hate to give up on it. I need elbow room and I see that we all do. My thoughts keep turning to various labels being more of a hindrance than a help.

In my seeking, I can’t help but find myself at the feet of Jesus, pondering his teachings to love God and my neighbor as myself. He didn’t just tell us to love our enemies, he did it. In this society that often pushes Jesus further and further away, I embrace the fact that his teaching was against being judgmental. Many of his followers today ignore this. I have at times ignored this in my fellow Christians. I do think Friends have some thing very special to say to the world right now and though small in number can quietly lead the way, but I feel we need a coming together once again to see all as equal and valuable; we need an equality as portrayed by Jesus. I want the courage to trust and follow so that we can unite together without the constant emphasis of our differences, but living our experiences and truths instead. This thought strengthens my resolve a bit and I sit and wonder can we start with one another?


Ganeida said...

Not sure I have completely followed your discussion so please correct any failure in understanding of mine.

I will grasp the nettle of those things I do understand first. I too rely overly much for fellowship, Christian & Quaker, on the web ~ otherwise I must do without. This has inbuilt drawbacks. When you do not have to meet someone's eye across the Meeting hall or shake hands with them at Meeting's end it is far easier to feel that there are no consequences to one's rudeness. It is not true of course. I am guilty of with~holding who I am to avoid the sorts of confrontation you speak of.

I know my Lord loves diversity far more than His people do. I have no idea how this works out in the spiritual realms [despite what some Christians would say ☺!]. I was reading something the other day that resonates with me but I am still meditating on the implications as it is far more inclusive than most Christians would allow.

I enjoy my non~Christian or Seeking friends without feeling the need to bash my bible over their heads & ram it down their throats because they know who I am & what I believe & when they want to know they ask. The command was to make disciples, not converts.

Lastly I do not have an answer to your deeper question. It is human nature to be protective of our own beliefs [heaven forfend we should be found to be wrong!] & to seek companionship amongst those of like mind. [Christ would have been very lonely!] We are not called to be human. Those of us who claim Christ are called to be like Christ ~ & that is only possible when we die to ourselves & allow His spirit to rule us; easier some days than others.

Often those who have blessed me most have claimed the least belief. If nothing else we all share our common humanity.

Martin Kelley said...

Sorry you're having a rough time of it. All I'd say is that the internet trumps any high-minded values we might have. Internet discussion boards attract certain kinds of hurt people with rigid thinking who often dominate discussion. Even when the principles they advocate might be true or useful, the back-and-forth can get bullying and personal. As I've said privately, I'm discouraged at the tone of some of the discussion on the boards. I've minimized the impact by semi-hiding it but there's still some activity that I don't think is the most useful.

On a personal level, one thing I've found is to be disciplined about how I read internet forums: if the tone is wrong, I leave before I myself get heated up about it. I try to remember that these are real people with their own histories and life stories that have contributed to their rigidity.

Tom Smith said...

Jan Lyn,

As you might have surmised from some of my other postings, I have not, nor am I, one that shows or expresses emotions easily. ( I generally am most misunderstood/misinterpreted, etc when that happens.) However, I must express a sincere pain on reading your words. I am not sure I am even a "recovering" perfectionist as in your "about me," but rather someone struggling with what is meant by "Quaker perfectionism" and seeking to be led by the Spirit of Christ that I know still has much to do with my life.

Having been someone who has associated with all "branches" of Quakerism, possibly the Religious Society of Friends, but I often use the "ISM"form of Quakerism to denote the specific "beliefs" that tend to be exclusionary rather than inclusive. It is when Friends become an -ism that I find most conflicts, etc. arise.

I have no answers for you but wanted to express my empathy with your seeking. The "Kingdom" (Society) of God is built on love, faith, justice, and walking humbly with God. Unfortunately this often brings pain and a "cross" that can become heavy at times, but there is some comfort knowing that the cross is also being borne byanother whose Spirit is present in strength and power.

In Peace and Friendship, Tom

Bill said...

I am going to try to do a balancing act as I respond to your post. I want to challenge part of what you said while trying to make it clear that I am listening to you and respect you and your thoughts.

My reading of the accounts of Jesus show me someone who demonstrated what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves and do good to those who oppose us. And it also shows me someone who was "judgmental." Jesus challenges those around him (including his closest followers) when they are trying to pull him and each other in wrong directions. He challenges his followers to use their judgment ("be wise as serpents. . .") in love (". . .and gentle as doves.")

Setting aside our differences hinders community. Instead, differences can energize us to explore what it really means to be a community sitting at the feet of Jesus.

A favorite description of love captures some of this:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Julian said...

(((If you can show me some Quaker equality and tolerance at the moment, please stand up)))

They're not Quakers, but to me these folks demonstrate the Quaker spirit of equality and love by working, mostly without pay, because they believe education should be available even in areas where families can't afford to pay school fees:

Heather said...

"My thoughts keep turning to various labels being more of a hindrance than a help."

This is so true, and something I seem to be reading all over the place. I do believe Quakers are the way forward, and I believe we will have to heal our differences in order to grow.

Jan Lyn said...

I truly extend my thanks to all of you for reading my rather spontaneous and blunt post. This topic of melding the various branches is a concern near to my heart. God has so very much to teach me--infinately so much more to learn. It is my prayer, I would not trip others up, but rather be part of uniting and taking an action some how for a way forward.

I appreciate your encouraging words and empathy shared. It provided much comfort to wake up to this new day and much to think about. I enjoyed reading the Cor. verse and words of challenge and the thought to consider the strength and power available in the spirit in the weight of the cross,Tom.

I think Ganeida is correct in that there are some inbuilt drawbacks in utilizing the internet as we lack visual cues and often have language differences. It is also an outstanding new medium that is making a tremendous impact and I am very greatful for it and sites like QQ. Also, very helpful advice from Martin about using some self-discipline or discretion as we do with with the tv too--we can simply decide if it needs to be learned from or turned off.

Thank you for sharing that example Jullian, as education is another subject of great interest of mine. What a good reminder that us Quakers do hold the corner of equality, but it can be in all people. I do believe there is so much for the continuing of the kingdom within The Religious Society of Friends. As Heather has pointed out, the Spirit can use us as in leading the way, but we will need to be aware and respectful of our differences and perhaps find ways to continue healing in ourselves, Friends and in the world at large.

chelavery said...

Jan, sometimes I think internet communication has a way of bringing out the worst in us. I've given it a lot of thought, although I don't have any wonderfully wise answers. I keep harking back to Marshall McLuhan (that'll date me, huh?): "The medium is the message." The medium in this case is fast, direct, and relies almost entirely on words. I think it tends to emphasize certain qualities that many people have as part of a mixture: argumentativeness, legalism, nitpickiness about words. And often the people who are most adept at and comfortable with that kind of communication, and have the time to devote to it,end up dominating the tone of a conversation.

In a different situation -- say a monthly meeting -- these qualities would be part of a larger mix, and the "sting" would be softened by a greater balance in ways of thinking and ways of communicating.

(For example, right now, I am offering a rational analysis of the issue; if we were in a live conversation and I noticed that you felt "stung," my response might be quite different -- a quick hug, a touch, a facial expression, or some sympathetic words: "Ouch! That sounded harsh!")

Jan Lyn said...

Thank you Chel-you gave me a lot to consider with helpful examples.

I've not been in attendance in physical meeting as much as I'd like to due to some illness and complications, but glad to say I now plan to be more. When I do go, while it is different every time, a certain gentleness pervades the atmosphere. I've noticed a few individuals a bit nervous to share their vocal ministry, but I've not observed any harshness.

Thanks for taking the time to give me your insight.
Jan Lyn

Johnny said...

What a thoughtful and honest posting Jan. You raise some very important concerns, and I think you are a blessing to the community of Quakers online and offline. We all have our views and opinions from liberal to conservative, evangelical and pastoral friends. Maybe it is like looking at a large stained glass window, if we focus on one small pane of the glass in only one color, we miss the beauty and symmetry of the artist's work. If we as friends take a step back and consider the whole work, we may appreciate the entire thing, and in turn view ourselves differently and our place in the community.

I hope my analogy is not too convoluted.

John Richards

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

- Numbers 6:24-26

Jan Lyn said...

Oh John, your illustration was a very good one for me this morning, thank you so much fFriend. You know I love all my Q friends and aquaintences so, I just got a bit weary and let it all "hang out" in this post a Well, truthfully it has helped me to get responses and I've been thinking on them all this past week. The vs. is like a healing balm to share.

The Lord bless thee and keep thee too.
Jan Lyn

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